The White House and House Republicans are in a tough fight to shape public perception of the healthcare reform law after a consulting firm said it could lead to 30 percent of employers dropping coverage starting in 2014.
What the report shows, said Energy and Commerce Health panel member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), is that "what President Obama promised during the healthcare — that if you liked your health insurance plan you'd be able to keep it — is really not true. That is an unkept promise."
The Obama administration responded with a post on the White House blog calling the report, from McKinsey & Company, an "outlier."
"The study misses some key points," wrote Deputy Chief of Staff Nancy-Ann DeParle, "and doesn't provide the complete picture about how the Affordable Care Act will strengthen the health care system and make it easier for employers to offer high quality coverage to their employees."
With the House not in session this week, it took a while for political rhetoric to flare up after McKinsey released its report late Monday. But by Wednesday the barbs were flying.
Ways and Means Republicans latched on to the report in their Prescription Pad blog, pointing out that this is the third report in a few weeks to conclude that many Americans might not be able to keep their coverage if they like it, as President Obama repeatedly promised before signing healthcare reform into law.
"Three reports in three weeks by highly respected independent experts — each one reaching the same conclusion: the Democrats' health care law has made health care coverage more expensive and threatens to destroy the ability to 'keep the coverage you have and like,' " the blog reads.
The blog stretches the conclusions reached by the two other reports it mentions, however.
A report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers last month, for example, forecast that employers' medical costs will rise by 8.5 percent next year (versus 8 percent this year), but added that the health law will have "minimal effect" on premiums.
DeParle points to three studies — from the Rand Corporation, the Urban Institute and Mercer — that reach an opposite conclusion. And she points out that more employers started to offer coverage after similar reforms in Massachusetts.
"Employers are reluctant to lose control over a key employee benefit," DeParle quotes a Mercer analyst as saying. "But beyond that, once you consider the penalty, the loss of tax savings and grossing up employee income so they can purchase comparable coverage through an exchange, for many employers dropping coverage may not equate to savings."
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, for its part, has estimated that about 7 percent of employees with coverage — about nine or 10 million people — would lose it because of the law.
McMorris Rodgers told The Hill that CBO has "clearly underestimated the shift."
She predicted the president and Democrats who voted for the law would get the blame for any massive shift, not employers.
"It's convenient for the president to be able to hide behind these employers," she said, "but it's ultimately his policies that are putting them in this position."